Hall of Fame trainer Laz Barrera, who saddled Affirmed, the most recent Triple Crown winner, died early yesterday after being hospitalized with pneumonia. He was 66.
A native of Cuba who had a 40-year training career in Cuba, Mexico and the United States, Barrera died at Rio Hondo Hospital in Downey, Calif., at about 1:30 a.m.
Barrera entered the hospital Wednesday night. Barrera's son, Larry, said his father had been ill for about two days.
Affirmed, the 1978 and 1979 Horse of the Year, was the winner of a series of famed stretch duels with Alydar in the 1978 Triple Crown. He is the most recent of nine horses to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
At this time last year, Barrera was celebrating a career revival. Mister Frisky had won the Santa Anita Derby for Barrera, marking his 16th victory without a defeat, and would enter the Kentucky Derby as the favorite.
But the colt finished eighth in the Derby and a badly beaten third in the Preakness. The colt was found to have grapefruit-size throat abscess last summer and has not raced since the Preakness, although Barrera was readying him for a return to racing in June.
Barrera was the only trainer to win four Eclipse Awards as the country's best (1976-79), and he won one other Kentucky Derby, in 1976, with Bold Forbes.
"The job that he did with Bold Forbes, making a sprinter win at a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half -- nobody could have done that," jockey Angel Cordero said. "He was just so sharp. He was like a father to me. This really shook me up."
The death of Laz Barrera comes three weeks after the death of his brother, Oscar Barrera, 63, also a trainer, who died of a heart attack on April 4 in New York. At that time, Laz Barrera said: "It's a condition that runs in the family. I've had heart trouble."